So here’s the current political situation in a nutshell:
1) Republicans hold an advantage in the midterm elections, particularly in the Senate races, where they have, at minimum, a very plausible shot at reclaiming the majority.
2) This is driven by structural factors to a far greater degree than Obamacare, despite the party’s single-minded obsession with the law and unshakable certainty that it alone will deliver the Senate.
3) Dems hold an advantage on key issues and on image overall, and the question now is whether that can put enough of a dent in the GOP’s structural edge to matter. Meanwhile, that structural advantage may temporarily mask the GOP’s need to moderate in ways that could hamper it heading into the 2016 presidential race.
The new Washington Post/ABC News poll captures all of this very neatly. Key findings:
1) Republicans hold a Senate edge. The poll finds: “In the 34 states with Senate races, 50 percent of voters say they favor Republicans and 42 percent favor Democrats.” That’s a real problem for Dems, but it’s mostly a structural one. Given that the two parties are tied in the generic ballot, that Senate advantage reflects the fact that Dems are on defense in more races. As Alan Abramowitz has explained, thanks to Dem successes in the 2008 landslide, Dems are now defending Senate seats in seven states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012.
2) Obamacare is mostly a wash. The poll finds Dems hold an edge on the health care issue (44-36). Tellingly, barely more than a third (36 percent) say support for Obamacare would make it less likely they vote for a candidate, versus 34 percent who say “more likely.” This is overwhelmingly driven by Republicans: 70 percent of them say “less likely,” while only 35 percent of independents say the same, and moderates say they’d be marginally more likely by 35-31.
3) Dems hold advantage in terms of image. The minimum wage, which Dems are making central this year, is significantly more helpful than Obamacare is: By 50-19, Americans say they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports hiking it. Dems are more trusted on immigration, energy, taxes, health care, and helping the middle class (47-34), while an overwhelming 68 percent say the GOP is not in touch with the concerns of most people today.
Ron Brownstein recently theorized that the GOP’s structural advantage — Senate control will be decided in seven states carried by Mitt Romney that tend to be older and whiter than the diversifying national electorate — is such that Republicans could win the Senate without taking any steps to address the “barriers that confront them in presidential contests, which draw a larger, younger, and more diverse electorate.” If the GOP’s continued overall image as out of touch is any indication — and today’s poll finds this view overwhelmingly shared by groups in that more diverse electorate — then perhaps there’s something to this.
* OBAMA PROPOSES GOP -BACKED IDEA IN BUDGET: The President’s new budget will include a host of Democratic priorities, but it will also include an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless adults, an idea that even some Republicans have embraced. Jackie Calmes explains the thinking:
By including the new tax-credit proposal and emphasizing its limited Republican pedigree, Mr. Obama is underscoring his struggle to set an agenda that stands a chance to become law, at least in part — in this case, to try to reduce inequality of incomes and economic opportunity.
Marco Rubio recently came out for a version of the this as part of his new poverty push, but his would not have involved spending any more money, so it might simply take money from others. By contrast, Obama’s version would be funded by ending two tax breaks for the rich, which will make it a nonstarter with Republicans.
* OBAMA’S BUDGET RETURNS TO POPULISM: The Post overview of the coming budget battle explains the ideas driving Obama’s budget as follows:
Obama plans to seek $56 billion in fresh spending to expand educational offerings for preschoolers and job training for laid-off workers, among other priorities…Obama is returning to the populist, bread-and-butter themes that helped him win reelection and have played to Democrats’ advantage for years. He will propose $28 billion in new spending on education, manufacturing and job training…He will endorse the idea of overhauling the corporate tax code to boost U.S. competitiveness and generate additional revenue to rebuild roads and bridges and create jobs.
In a nutshell, Obama will make the case that government has the potential to help millions of Americans prosper.
In terms of the midterms, this economic agenda is also about turning out core Democratic groups who tend to stay home in midterms.
* PAUL RYAN’S ROLE WITHIN THE GOP: Related to the above: Yesterday Paul Ryan rolled out a big report criticizing federal anti-poverty programs. This will figure prominently in the clash of fiscal visions that will unfold after Obama releases his budget, and the New York Times has a useful editorial exposing what the Ryan blueprint really means, including this key nugget:
He provides polished intellectual cover for his party to mow down as many antipoverty programs as it can see. Most Congressional Republicans would love nothing more than to eviscerate programs like Medicaid, Head Start and food stamps. But so as not to appear cruel and uncaring, they need a high-minded excuse to do so.
Ryan’s economic worldview — the Hammock Theory of Poverty — continues to animate the GOP’s economic agenda overall, and it overwhelmingly reflects the priorities of Tea Party Republicans, not non-Tea Party ones.
* THE LATEST ON THE FLORIDA SPECIAL ELECTION: With election day a week away, the Tampa Bay Times reports that GOP candidate David Jolly is so eager to appear as a moderate Republican that he’s taken to touting his support for raising the debt ceiling and his opposition to Paul Ryan’s budgets. Those budgets would have transformed Medicare, a topic on which Dem Alex Sink has been bludgeoning her opponent.
Jolly’s effort to moderate comes as internal polling on both sides reportedly shows Sink with more crossover appeal than Jolly. But the GOP registration advantage in this special election could prove at least 10 points.
* AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY KEEPS UP ASSAULT: The Koch-backed group is up with another anti-Obamacare ad hitting Rep. Gary Peters over the case of Julie Boonstra, who was featured in the previous misleading spot. AFP opposes the Medicaid expansion in multiple states, including Michigan, where it kicks in this spring. But the expected GOP candidate, Terri Lynn Land, supports it.
* DEMS PUSH REPUBLICANS ON MEDICAID EXPANSION: The Dem-allied Americans United for Change is up with new radio ads hitting state legislators in New Hampshire in advance of this week’s vote on the state’s version of the Medicaid expansion. AFP recently launched ads in Nebraska pushing for the same.
Some conservatives are vowing to hold GOP lawmakers who vote to expand coverage to their own constituents accountable with a primary. With AFP organizing against the expansion in other states, it’s clear that this aspect of Obamacare will continue to draw attention from outside groups.
* AND OBAMA TO GET AGGRESSIVE ON CLIMATE? Juliet Eilperin has an interesting look at the role of new White House counselor John Podesta, which signals that Obama may get aggressive with executive authority to combat climate change:
The Democratic strategist’s role at the White House, which includes steering climate and public lands policies, provides the clearest indication yet that President Obama and his top aides are increasingly focused on cementing a presidential legacy on the environment during his remaining time in office. That focus will be on full display Tuesday in the administration’s budget proposal, which will ask for $1 billion to cope with global warming’s impacts, shift how the government pays for wildfires and include new proposals aimed at tackling climate change.
The combination of executive action on climate (should Obama pursue it aggressively) and the implementation of Obamacare (if it works out over time) could add up to a sizable legacy, even if the prospects for legislative action in the remainder of his second term remain bleak.